DVD Heaven

Soon after picking up my shiny new television, my old Sony DVD player finally started to give up the ghost. I bought this player along with my first DVD, a copy of The Matrix. That movie probably sold more first DVD players than any other title from that time period.

The 480i component signal from this player looked great, but the transport was getting too picky, and would not play some disks that I needed to play. Since I had been getting tired about obsessing about games and needed a short break, I went DVD player shopping. Like most consumer electronics, DVD players fall into three categories:

1. Super cheap.

2. Cheap enough.

3. Almost stupidly expensive.

I have found two players in class 2 that I think are excellent.

When I first looked around, I picked out a player from Sony which had a digital video output (HDMI), and hooked it up. It looked like crap. The colors were all wrong, everything was too dark, and the picture was noisy, like someone threw sand at the TV.

Here was the first thing I learned: new DVD players don’t seem to put out the same level for “black” as old DVD players. The TV had been calibrated to the higher black levels of the old player, making everything wrong with the new one. I fiddled with the TV until things looked much better. Then I fiddled a bit more. Then my wife hit me and I stopped. When it was all over, the Sony looked great. Maybe just a hair better than the old player.

This is all fine, but it got me thinking about picture quality from the DVD player itself. This is always a bad sign. I found this collection of DVD player reviews. Among other things, the page has a fabulous discussion of what exactly it is that progressive scan DVD players do. It also has helpful explanations of the kinds of picture artifacts that show up when they do it wrong. This site is a gold mine of information for obsessed DVD geek.

In addition, the latest batch of reviews spoke highly of a very interesting piece of hardware. The Oppo DVD Player was said to do an excellent job on deinterlacing and scaling. As a bonus, it can also play video files that you burn onto a DVD-R. So you can play video from your computer without bothering to author a full-on DVD.

For various reasons, I hate playing video from my computer. Hooking the computer up to the TV is just too painful. And watching them on the machine itself is no fun (small screen, crappy sound). I want to watch the video on my TV with my remote control and my nice stereo system. The Oppo would let me do this and be a great DVD player as well. But, it was from a company I had never heard of, and the player itself seemed a bit rough around the edges. I resisted. Then someone in the office got one. I resisted further. But to no avail.

The Oppo is about what I expected. What it lacks in polish it makes up for in performance. The picture is as good or slightly better than the Sony. It is softer, but smoother with fewer obvious scaling artifacts, especially on edges. In addition, there are little touches that are nice. Navigation through the player menus and DVD menus is much faster. Layer changes are not as obvious. The transport is quieter, and doesn’t make as many little whiny noises as the Sony. Finally, playing my own disks is just great.

On the whole, I can happily recommend both of these players to those who are looking for this kind of toy. It’s going to be hard to decide which one to keep.